Pets may be the new face of the opioid epidemic

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A few pet owners were using their animals to try and get prescription painkillers in parts of the U.S. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) A few pet owners were using their animals to try and get prescription painkillers in parts of the U.S. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Dr. Serbin says a red flag is when someone asks for a prescription by name and one of the most common is Tramadol. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Dr. Serbin says a red flag is when someone asks for a prescription by name and one of the most common is Tramadol. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
Tramadol is a powerful drug used to relieve pain from broken bones, surgery and cancer; and it is equally effective for both humans and pets. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) Tramadol is a powerful drug used to relieve pain from broken bones, surgery and cancer; and it is equally effective for both humans and pets. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
The DEA also says it has not seen a problem here in Arizona of people trying to get drugs by abusing pets. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) The DEA also says it has not seen a problem here in Arizona of people trying to get drugs by abusing pets. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

Several disturbing cases of pet abuse have health care officials worried. 

That’s because it appears the pet owners were using their animals to try and get prescription painkillers.

In Oregon, dozens of dogs were found in squalid conditions, and police also found about 100,000 painkilling pills called Tramadol.  

And in Kentucky, a woman is accused of cutting her dog with a razor, again in order to get pain pills.

While we have not seen abuse here in Arizona, Dr. Brian Serbin, DVM, at Ingleside Animal Hospital says several years ago they did see a few cases of people trying to shop their animals around for prescriptions.

“My practice manager has had conversations in the past with other practice managers, warning us about possible people bringing animals around. Looking for specific drugs,” Dr. Serbin said.

Dr. Serbin says a red flag is when someone asks for a prescription by name and one of the most common is Tramadol. It is a powerful drug used to relieve pain from broken bones, surgery and cancer; and it is equally effective for both humans and pets.

“And it is inexpensive, so it is widely used in the vet profession,” says Dr. Serbin. “It is now a controlled drug. It's a class for in the U.S. and has the potential for human abuse.”

For a time here in Arizona, vets were required to report painkiller prescriptions to the state pharmacy board, but that requirement changed a few years ago. Dr. Mike Sorum, DVM, president-elect of the Arizona Veterinary Medical Association, says that group backed the change.

“Drug diversion is not a problem in Arizona as far as veterinary medicine goes,” Sorum said.

Dr. Sorum adds, for that reason, the reporting was a burden on many vets. And he adds, they still have strict guidelines. 

"The Drug Enforcement Administration requires us to keep very strict records on inventory, what we have and also what is dispensed," Sorum said.

And the DEA also says it has not seen a problem here in Arizona of people trying to get drugs by abusing pets.

"Getting a pet prescription is not cheap or easy," Dr. Sorum also explains. “If you take your pet into a veterinarian, all the costs for diagnostic tests to examinations may cost from hundreds to thousands of dollars.”

Dr. Serbin says that means they also watch for people who repeatedly call for refills.

“If people are calling for meds and we think they should have plenty of meds left over we will look to see what the situation is,” Dr. Serbin said.

Both vets say they want to make sure all of the pets still have access to the medicine they need while also ensuring people don't use their pets as cover for a dangerous addiction. 

“We keep a close eye on that because it is the appropriate thing to do. It's not like a vending machine here. We dispense medicines as needed,” says Dr. Serbin.

And in case you were wondering, many prescription drugs for pets are identical to drugs given to humans.

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


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